Chinese lanterns

The Ultimate China Tour Guide to Mid-Autumn Festival

If you’re visiting China during the fall season, you’ll want to add the Mid-Autumn Festival to your bucket list of things to do. Planning trips around national festivals is a trick we’ve picked up over our years of traveling, which has allowed us to see above and beyond the everyday humdrum a city has to offer.

Not that witnessing the authentic, day-to-day life of a Chinese native isn’t thrilling, but given the opportunity to take that and add on top of it the bonus of seeing the city in the midst of a full-on celebration, we’ll take the latter every time. 

Chinese girl

The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most popular festival in all of China, right behind the Chinese New Year. It takes place, as its name indicates, in the latter part of the year: the fifteenth day of the eight month of the lunar calendar, to be precise. This year, in 2017, that means it lands on October 4th.

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The Backstory

The story of the Mid-Autumn Festival began over 3500 years ago. 

During these days in ancient China, it was widely believed that the moon held a great, unparalleled power—responsible for not only the changing seasons but the crops that would grow throughout the year, in either abundance or scarcity. 

Because of this almighty status the moon held, it only follows that everyone began to worship it.

China Dragon

The people found themselves drawn to celebrate the moon when it was at its most robust and luminescent stage, which happened to be in the Fall season. As such, they decided to select a special time during this part of the year to completely devote to their worshipping of the moon; this would become the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Chinese lanterns

So now, the festival presents the opportunity for the Chinese to thank the moon for the abundance of crops it has allowed them to have harvested over the year. This they express via prayer, but also through the offering of sacrifices.

The Legends

As per ancient Chinese culture, there are a number of legends attributed to this festival. The most famous of them all is that of Chang’e.

Chang’e Flying to the Moon tells the story of the Chinese moon goddess who flew to the moon after ingesting an elixir of life.

To start at the beginning, the sky was once filled with ten suns, which was far too many.

They caused excessive heat, scorching the people and their crops, and thus leading to great destruction. In order to mend this, Chang’e’s husband shot down nine of the ten moons, which ultimately saved the people.

Mid-Autumn Festival decoration

As a reward, her husband was given an elixir of immortality, but instead of taking it he hid it in their home, which ended up being a recipe for disaster.

A robber came in one day demanding this life-saving elixir and, with her husband not being at home to fight him off, Chang’e felt cornered. Was there anything to do, she thought, but prevent the robber from taking the elixir by swallowing it herself?

With that, she drank it all up and flew up the moon—her afterlife of choice. When her husband came home, he mourned her loss and offered sacrifices to her in the form of cakes and fruits she once delighted in.


There are so many different ways you can join in on the fun that the Mid-Autumn Festival has to offer! Below are just a few of our favorite ways to celebrate.

The best part is, these aren’t region-specific, either. You can enjoy the festival all across China, from Shanghai to Hong Kong, to Guangzhou, to Hangzhou, to Beijing, and more.

Lantern Making

Get crafty and release your inner child with this traditional form of arts and crafts.

Making lanterns only takes red paper, a wooden frame, and candles. If you’re feeling especially artistic, paint your lantern with festive images of Chang’e and/or rabbits.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Dinner and Moon Worshipping

Relish in a warm, loving dinner with friends and family outside under the stars. It’s the perfect opportunity to both worship the moon, as the ancient Chinese once did, while coming together over a wonderfully cooked home meal.

An important part of this meal is the fruit component; watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, pear, persimmon, and grapes are believed to be the most powerful foods for worshipping the moon.

Burn incense, light candles and face your table toward the moon to make sure you’re getting the most authentic experience. You may even see large dinners set up in town squares in touristy cities, and if you do, why not see if you can join in!

Moon Cake Offering

…or eating. If you want to follow the steps of the legendary husband of Chang’e, you’ll take your mooncakes and offer them to the moons as an act of prayer and sacrifice. But don’t feel bad about indulging in some too, that’s all part of the fun.

Moon cakes

Not sure what they even are? They’re a round dessert, typically about 4 inches wide and 2 inches deep in their entirety—bare in mind, this is meant to be shared amongst an entire family.

On the outside, they have a delicious pastry skin, and on the inside, you’ll find the most delectable, sweet, dense filling. Cut them into triangular slices and enjoy!

Experience the Joy, Yourself

Nothing really compares to China during a festival season. There’s no better place, with more jovial, decked out streets to get lost or try questionable street food in. This is a truly unparalleled experience.

And if you have to choose one of the festivals to attend, you should definitely consider the Mid-Autumn Festival, although we wouldn’t blame you for wanting to stick around for more after getting your first taste.

What are you most excited to do or see at Mid-Autumn Festival?

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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